'Problems are systemic': Advocates react to auditor general's Yukon housing report

·2 min read
Downtown Whitehorse. The auditor general released a scathing report this week that says the Yukon government hasn't done enough to provide adequate and affordable housing to those who need it most.  (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Downtown Whitehorse. The auditor general released a scathing report this week that says the Yukon government hasn't done enough to provide adequate and affordable housing to those who need it most. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A new report from the auditor general shows just how hard it is for Yukon's most vulnerable people to find somewhere to live, social justice advocates say.

"The problems are systemic," said Kate Mechan, executive director of the Safe at Home Society, which works to combat homelessness. "They're also very fixable. We can do this."

The auditor general released a scathing report this week that says the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services haven't done enough to provide adequate and affordable housing to those in greatest need.

Findings include a wait list that has ballooned by 320 per cent between 2015 and 2021, siloed departments and a flawed priority system, which seeks to house particularly vulnerable residents — such as those grappling with homelessness or fleeing violence — first.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

The auditor general provided nine recommendations for the government to improve the system. The government  accepted all of the recommendations but it remains unclear when they will be fully implemented, or which ones will be worked on first.

The auditor general made similar recommendations in 2010, when the housing issue was last studied.

Mechan said this crystallizes what needs to be done.

"We know what the gaps are," she said.

Housing problems intersect with opioid crisis 

Housing is health, according to Brontë Renwick-Shields, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions.

"People who are housed have better outcomes when it comes to overdose," she said. "We see that people who are homeless are often disproportionately affected by the overdose crisis."

Philippe Morin
Philippe Morin

Renwick-Shields said supportive housing is particularly important in combating the opioid crisis. While there has been some progress — the Housing First residence in downtown Whitehorse, for instance — more units are desperately needed.

"We need to address this as an emergency issue," she said.

Problems impact women disproportionately

Aja Mason, the executive director of the Yukon Status of Women Council, said the face of homelessness is increasingly gendered, with women — Indigenous women, in particular — affected disproportionately.

Safe at Home manages a list, which shows that, as of last week, 194 people declared they are currently homeless. Of those, 61 are Indigenous women.

Mason said the problem revolves around hotels, which are being repurposed for tourists now that the COVID-19 pandemic is on the wane.

Submitted by Aja Mason
Submitted by Aja Mason

"The by-name list has doubled in previous months," she said.

"We know that there are huge implications for housing shortages from a gender-based violence perspective," she said. "We should not overlook the intersection of housing shortages and domestic or intimate partner violence."

Mason said private sector housing won't fill the void. The answer is not-for-profit organizations owning and operating public housing complexes such as cooperatives, she said.

"Opportunities where folks can have some skin in the game, where they're not paying for somebody's else's mortgage."

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